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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. violent crimes like murders and rapes decreased by 1.4 percent in 2007 after two years of increases that caused concern among criminal justice experts, the FBI reported on Monday.
All four violent crime categories declined nationwide in 2007 from prior-year levels, the FBI said. Rape decreased by 4.3 percent, murder and manslaughter dropped by 2.7 percent while robberies and aggravated assaults fell by 1.2 percent.
The FBI also reported property crimes, such as burglary, larceny, theft and motor vehicle theft, were down by 2.1 percent last year.
The latest numbers appear to show that the two years of increases in violent crimes -- 1.9 percent in 2006 and 2.3 percent in 2005 -- represented just a temporary upswing rather than the start of a long-term trend of more crime.
Criminal justice experts had blamed the increases on gangs, youth violence, more gun crimes and fewer police on the beat.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr called the latest FBI numbers "very encouraging" but said they were preliminary and could change when the FBI releases final figures later this year.
"The report suggests that violent crime is decreasing and remains near historic low levels," he said. "Some communities, however, continue to face localized violent crime challenges."
While murder and manslaughter decreased nearly 10 percent in the biggest cities, they increased by 3.7 percent in smaller cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999. Violent crime went down in every region of the country except for a small increase in the South.
Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by David Alexander and Bill Trott